ICF

Excellence in values drives builder’s ICF homes

One of the leading builders of ICF homes in Michigan arrived at his concrete work with more than a decade of home construction experience. What Jake Vierzen has used in his ascent at his R-Value Homes is a high standard. He built homes for 11 years before starting R-Value, which specializes in energy efficient residences that adhere to his professional code: deliver excellent work based upon long experience.

As an example of one serious issue, the passage of moisture through a structure’s walls is a fine science. “I don’t want to work on projects where we’re compromising on these water issues,” he said. “ICF solves that kind of problem very simply.”

Such problems are built into stick home construction. Creating Prickly Pear Sanctuary from the plans of Image Design’s Eric Hughes was Vierzen’s latest mission to make something beautiful from ICF.

“A lot of people who are building with ICF tend to build ugly houses,” he said. “Then ICF becomes associated with ugly houses.” The passion about creating energy efficient residences sometimes leads builders and homeowners away from fundamental esthetics like windows.

“Sure, if you don’t put a lot of windows in, then you’re going to get better energy performance—but is that the most important thing? Shouldn’t our homes be beautiful and comfortable? So we put in more glass. We just make it good glass, a triple pane.”

Vierzen uses different glazings on the window glass depending on the orientation it faces. Prickly Pear’s glass wasn’t passive house certified for energy efficiency, but Vierzen said it was very close.

Starting with the site

Preserving the vegetation in the area around the home was important to the homeowners, so Vierzen and Hughes had to come up with a plan for making a home without a basement, to bypass the extensive excavation. A frost protected shell foundation was the start of the base of the home. The ICF walls set directly on it and the floor was poured inside.

“It allowed us to have a very shallow foundation with very minimal excavating,’ Vierzen said

The project began in serious winter weather. “The day after we poured the floor there was 12 inches of snow on it,” Vierzen said. “Fortunately, we had it covered with blankets, because we knew it was going to get cold. We definitely fought deep snow. We’re in the snow belt where there’s a lot of lake effect snow in that area.

The flooring couldn’t be ruined by water or snow and the wall system wasn’t at risk from the weather, either. The roof and ceiling system allowed Vierzen to heat the structure early. “I didn’t have to wait until plumbing and wiring before I could insulate the walls and pump heat into it. We could heat it much earlier than a stick-built project, and of course at a much lower cost during construction, so that’s something the tradesmen all liked.”

Drywall wasn’t the primary air barrier used, as in traditional houses. A typical build would not be able to insulate the ceiling until drywall was in place. R-Value put an air barrier under the ceiling and then built a 4-inch chase where all wiring, light fixtures and plumbing went, and then drywall.

“It was a combination of the ICF and the ceiling air barrier, plus the mechanical construction chase, that allowed us to keep going in the dead of winter,” Vierzen said.

Level and straight walls

Prickly Pear’s details gave R-Value other ways to show off. The ICF walls were perfectly straight and level, so trusses were set directly on them using metal straps. No shimming to level was required.

Getting the walls straight is a regular practice that Vierzen ensures by using the Reechcraft system. The system built for bracing insulating concrete forms is “probably the most critical thing of all,” he said. “Don’t try to build scaffolding and bracing yourself out of two-by lumber.” Reechcraft has aluminum strong backs and steel turnbuckles and there’s scaffolding guardrail. In one system, it aligns the wall and provides the scaffolding.

Straightening walls is a breeze with a bracing system, he said. “I used to do poured walls for many years and straightening was always kind of a crapshoot. You never know how many braces you’re going to need and the wall moves afterward and it will have a brace on one side, you know, you have to move it to the other side—but it’s a simple matter with Reechcraft of twisting a turnbuckle to get the wall straight.”

LP SmartSide horizontal plank siding with a 9-inch with a 3-inch reveal required perfectly straight walls to avoid waves typical on other projects of similar configuration.

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Ron Seybold

Ron Seybold